2012 UC Accountability Report part 1: Changing faculty demographics

The demography of UC faculty has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, according to data released by the UC Office of the President.

Along with the publication of the 2012 UC Accountability Report, UCOP released a trove of data showing that older faculty members have become abundant over the last two decades, while younger faculty members have grown far more scarce.

Particularly illuminating is the 70+ age bracket. In the fall of 2011, almost 8 percent of ladder rank faculty were older than 70, whereas, in the fall of 1990, none were.

With more and more faculty members reaching retirement age, the number of faculty departures has ballooned.

The university categorizes the reasons for faculty departures into four groups: retirement above age 60, retirement below age 60, resignation and death/other. Since 1994, the number of faculty members leaving because of retirement at the age of 60 or older has surged from about 6 percent to about 50 percent.

As more faculty reach retirement, pension costs have spiraled upwards at a time when the UC Retirement Plan is severely underfunded. Largely due to investment losses during the recession and the decision to suspend employee pension contributions from 1990 to 2010 because the fund appeared to have a surplus, UC officials now face a roughly $10 billion pension liability. Administrators have taken steps to reconcile the deficit, raising the retirement age for future employees and steadily increasing contribution requirements for employees, but many challenges remain.

The outflow of retiring faculty may also leave the university susceptible to “brain drain.” In 2009, UC President Mark Yudof discussed the threat of brain drain, citing low salaries and low hiring rates as detrimental to the long term health of the university. But since then, salaries have remained at a significant discount to comparator institutions and hiring rates continue to be anemic.

In 1999, the average associate professor would expect to make about 6 percent less than a peer at one of UC’s comparator institutions*. Now that professor would have to take a pay cut of about 14 percent relative to his peers. Unless salary levels pick up, attracting young talent could continue to be a challenge for the university.

Whether the UC can handle either the pension or talent problem remains to be seen. But left unattended, mounting pension pressures and deteriorating institutional experience will undoubtedly place an even greater burden on the UC as it strives to achieve strong financial and academic footing.

*The UC uses four private and four public comparator institutions’ salary rates as market competitor rates to set its own salaries. Those schools are: the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, SUNY Buffalo, Harvard University, MIT, Stanford University and Yale University.

Curan Mehra is the lead higher education reporter.